My priority as Minister with Responsibility for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Defence Forces is maintained to the greatest extent possible so as to enable the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service to carry out their roles as assigned by Government.
The acquisition of new equipment and equipment upgrades for the Defence Forces remains a clear focus for me, and the White Paper on Defence recognises that there are several new and or enhanced platforms to be procured. Future equipment priorities for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service are being considered in the context of the lifetime of the White Paper on Defence as part of the capability development and equipment planning process.
The National Development Plan provides for a Capital allocation of €541m for Defence for the five year period 2018-2022. This allocation will facilitate the investment necessary to ensure that the Defence Forces have the equipment and infrastructure to deliver on all their roles as set out in the White Paper.
The White Paper provides that the Army will continue to retain all-arms conventional military capabilities, and the principal aim over the period of the White Paper will be to replace and upgrade, as required, existing capabilities in order to retain a flexible response for a wide range of operational requirements both at home and overseas.
The major equipment programmes that are currently underway include a strong focus on essential force protection provided by armoured vehicles. In this regard the Defence Organisation has commenced a maintenance and upgrade programme on the current fleet of 80 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs). This is being carried out by General Dynamics European Land Systems - Mowag, the original manufacturer of the fleet who are based in Switzerland. In addition, 24 armoured utility vehicles have been procured from Centigon, France and 10 armoured logistical vehicles are currently being manufactured by Westward Scania, Ireland.
With regard to the Air Corps, the White Paper provides for the replacement of the current Cessna fleet with three larger aircraft which will be equipped for Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR). An open tender competition has concluded and a contract has been placed with Pilatus Aircraft Ltd, a Swiss company, for the provision of three PC-12 fixed wing utility aircraft suitably equipped for ISTAR tasks. It is expected that the three aircraft will be delivered by 2020. The planning process for the replacement of the two CASA 235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft has recently commenced in my Department.
In relation to the Naval Service, the White Paper underpins the ongoing replacement of the Naval Service fleet. In this regard, a significant investment over recent years has been on the procurement of new Off-Shore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) for the Naval Service. The fourth ship in the OPV programme, to be named LÉ George Bernard Shaw, is being built by Babcock International, a British company and is scheduled for delivery in mid 2018.
The White Paper provides for the replacement of the current Naval Service flagship LÉ Eithne with a multi role vessel (MRV). Planning has commenced on this project and it is intended to hold a public tender competition in due course to cover the supply of the MRV. This procurement is, of course, subject to the availability of funding within the overall Defence capital funding envelope.
In terms of suppliers of military equipment, the principle of competitive tendering for Government contracts is used by the Department of Defence for the acquisition of defensive equipment for the Defence Forces. Central to those procedures is the requirement to allow fair competition between suppliers through the submission of tenders following advertising of the tender competition on the e-tenders site and on the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), where appropriate, in line with the EU procurement directives, including the Directive on the procurement of Defensive and Security Equipment. Details of tender competitions can be accessed on the Government’s eTenders website www.etenders.gov.ie. In addition, the Department routinely publishes details of purchases orders for goods and services valued over €20,000 on its website at www.defence.ie which provides details of suppliers.
I am satisfied that the current provisions, together with the courses of action in the White Paper, will continue to ensure that the Defence Forces is suitably equipped, in line with international best practice, to fulfil all roles assigned by Government.